Background: Increasing evidence demonstrates that motor-skill memories improve across a night of sleep, and that non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep commonly plays a role in orchestrating these consolidation enhancements. Here we show the benefit of a daytime nap on motor memory consolidation and its relationship not simply with global sleep-stage measures, but unique characteristics of sleep spindles at regionally specific locations; mapping to the corresponding memory representation.
Methodology/principal findings: Two groups of subjects trained on a motor-skill task using their left hand - a paradigm known to result in overnight plastic changes in the contralateral, right motor cortex. Both groups trained in the morning and were tested 8 hr later, with one group obtaining a 60-90 minute intervening midday nap, while the other group remained awake. At testing, subjects that did not nap showed no significant performance improvement, yet those that did nap expressed a highly significant consolidation enhancement. Within the nap group, the amount of offline improvement showed a significant correlation with the global measure of stage-2 NREM sleep. However, topographical sleep spindle analysis revealed more precise correlations. Specifically, when spindle activity at the central electrode of the non-learning hemisphere (left) was subtracted from that in the learning hemisphere (right), representing the homeostatic difference following learning, strong positive relationships with offline memory improvement emerged-correlations that were not evident for either hemisphere alone.
Conclusions/significance: These results demonstrate that motor memories are dynamically facilitated across daytime naps, enhancements that are uniquely associated with electrophysiological events expressed at local, anatomically discrete locations of the brain.